Working to make government more effective

Insight paper

The contested boundaries of devolved legislative competence: Securing better devolution settlements

Why devolved competence has become more contested.

Aileen McHarg
Scottish parliament

The boundaries of devolved competence have become significantly more contested in recent years, largely, albeit not exclusively, as a consequence of Brexit. This has manifested in a number of highly controversial changes to the devolution statutes and surrounding constitutional frameworks, as well as more frequent disputes about devolved competence, followed by more frequent resort to the courts to resolve those disputes. In contrast to the early years of devolution, recent developments in both the political and judicial spheres have tended to constrain devolved legislative competences in new and problematic ways.

This guest paper argues that the net effect of these changes has been to threaten the ability of the devolved legislatures to discharge their central constitutional purposes effectively: to give effect to local democratic choices and to improve the quality of decision making in devolved policy areas by bringing it closer to the people it affects. 

It aims to explore the reasons why devolved competence has become more contested, and to suggest potential solutions to the resulting problems that are achievable within the current constitutional order – that is, without moving to a federal constitution or displacing the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament. 

The paper is part of the IfG and the Bennett Institute's review of the UK constitution

Related content

08 FEB 2024 Insight paper

The Union and the state

Whether the UK survives in its current form or what it will look like if it doesn’t stay together, will hinge on which vision prevails.